Tag Archives: Wildlife Conservation Society

Close the U.S. Ivory Market for Good

By Cristián Samper and Susan Lieberman

May 19, 2014
It’s been said that insanity is doing the same action over and over and expecting a different outcome. We have been mindful of that idea as we’ve followed the reactions from supporters of commercial ivory sales to restrictions recently imposed by President Obama at the suggestion of his Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, upon which we are privileged to serve.

The president’s boldest – and most controversial – decision was to prohibit all commercial imports and interstate commerce in elephant ivory, including antiques. Opponents suggest this unfairly targets owners of legal ivory and argue that the new rules will do nothing to protect elephants in Africa. To secure elephants and their habitats, argue critics (who say they support such a goal), only a legal ivory market will do.

In fact, we have lived with a legal ivory market for many years. It has enabled purveyors of illegal ivory (obtained from the slaughter of elephants for their tusks) to launder their goods, falsely claiming new ivory to be antique or at the very least purchased prior to a ban imposed on the international commercial ivory trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Antique ivory is virtually indistinguishable from fresh, particularly when carved or otherwise processed.

The convention’s restrictions succeeded for many years in reducing poaching and allowing elephant populations to begin to recover. However, we have more recently seen the rise of organized criminal networks involved in wildlife trafficking, sometimes working with armed rebels and others across Africa that seek to sustain their operations with precious “white gold.” The current wave of trafficking is both driven by and encourages corruption.

The criminal networks – and others – operating throughout the ivory trade chain are now responsible for the death of more than 35,000 African elephants per year, or about 96 each day. The global community, including many African elephant range countries and the Obama administration, recognizes that if we want a different outcome we have to try different actions.

The new National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking provides guiding principles to all federal agencies to tackle this serious transnational crime and focuses on strengthening domestic and global enforcement, reducing demand for ivory and other endangered species products, and garnering international political will.

With the United States estimated to have one of the largest domestic commercial ivory markets after China, loopholes in current U.S. law not covered by the convention’s ban must be closed. How can we ask other countries to do their part to clamp down on this pernicious trade if we are not willing to do the same?

Some critics, including Godfrey Harris and Daniel Stiles writing in The New York Times, argue that instead of stricter moratoria on ivory sales, we should focus efforts on educating consumers in Asia and “more aggressive enforcement of anti-poaching efforts in Africa.”

But those are tactics already embraced by the conservation community and many governments. The Wildlife Conservation Society and other NGO partners are working actively on evidence-based efforts to reduce the purchase of ivory, rhino horn and other endangered species products, in China and Southeast Asia in particular. We are also collaborating closely with governments to promote strong enforcement along the trade chain, including effecting successful prosecutions and encouraging deterrent penalties. The U.S. National Strategy embraces all of these efforts and we are already beginning to see positive results.

The Chinese public appears to be awakening to the horrors of the ivory trade as messages on Weibo (a social media site combining elements of both Facebook and Twitter), other media including newspapers and PSAs, and celebrities spread the word, and both China and the Hong Kong have destroyed or committed to destroying some or all of their stockpiles of seized ivory. A growing number of other governments around the world are destroying stockpiles too and using the occasion to highlight the need to address trafficking in ivory seriously.

Some musicians and gun owners question the efficacy of tighter rules recently outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming they unfairly restrict their ability to travel with items containing trace amounts of ivory. But there is nothing in the administration’s proposed new ivory rules that will prevent people from traveling within the U.S. with their items. Only sales will be prohibited.

Now is not the time to focus on minutia or to be complacent. The U.S. must show leadership and the administration’s new ivory policy and bold National Wildlife Trafficking Strategy are evidence of just such leadership. The European Union, China and others are all increasing their attention on this critical issue, and evaluating their strategies to stop the scourge of illegal wildlife trade and treat it as a serious transnational crime.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Standing Committee meets in July to evaluate progress on stopping elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade. We are hopeful that the United States, which has a seat on that committee, will be able to attend with its head held high and announce that it has taken bold action to close U.S. domestic markets to ivory trade.

Belgium to Destroy Its Illegal Ivory Next Month

By Denise Chow, Staff Writer   |   March 26, 2014 03:57pm ET

Belgium is slated to destroy its entire stockpile of illegal ivory next month, joining the United States, China and several other countries in taking a stand against wildlife trafficking.

Earlier this month, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx announced plans to destroy all the illegal ivory seized by customs, on April 9. A special ceremony will be held to mark the occasion, with dignitaries from the Belgian government present.

Onkelinx made the announcement March 3 at an event celebrating Belgium’s involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. [In Images: 100 Most Threatened Species]

“The Belgian government should be saluted for taking a firm and public stand on ivory trafficking and working to save the world’s threatened elephants,” Sonja Van Tichelen, European Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.

Rampant ivory poaching is causing precipitous declines in elephant populations, and the Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96elephants are killed each day by poachers in Africa. The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but the demand for ivory now is higher than ever, and lucrative black markets have emerged around the world.

“Not only are we losing an elephant every 15 minutes but the ivory trade is undercutting law and order in elephant range states and enriching organized crime syndicates — the slaughter of elephants must be stopped,” Van Tichelen said.

Belgium is set to join several other countries that recently destroyed their stockpiles of ivory. In February, France crushed more than 15,000 pieces of ivory, which included carvings, jewelry and other trinkets that were confiscated by customs agents.

In January, China, the world’s biggest consumer of illegal ivory, joined the effort by crushing 6 tons of its own ivory tusks and carved ornaments. The United States destroyed its ivory stockpile — collected from more than 25 years of confiscations and smuggling busts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — in November.

Officials in Hong Kong also announced their plan to burn more than 30 tons of elephant tusks and ivory products throughout the first half of this year. Recently, officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam announced they are considering crushing the country’s stores of rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger bone.

This article can be found in the following link: http://www.livescience.com/44399-belgium-ivory-crush.html

Elephant killer gets five years in prison in the Republic of Congo

Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
August 01, 2013

The Congolese Supreme Court has ordered Ghislain Ngondjo (known as Pepito) to five years in prison for slaughtering dozens of elephants for their ivory tusks. The five year sentence is the maximum in the Republic of Congo for poaching. Ngondjo was considered the “kingpin” of an elephant poaching group; in addition to killing pachyderms, Ngondjo recruited new poachers and made death threats to park rangers and staff in Odzala National Park.

“Congo is ground zero for the fight to save Africa’s forest elephants from extinction, and the arrest and successful prosecution of Pepito shows that we can win this war when governments and the NGO community work together in partnership,” says James Deutsch, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Africa Program.

Conservationists have long called on governments to hand down stiffer penalties to poachers and other wildlife criminal, many of whom are released with little more than a slap on the wrist.

“The Republic of Congo’s Minister of Justice and Congolese Supreme Court of the Republic of Congo and have sent a clear message that the theft and pillaging of Congo’s wildlife heritage by criminal poachers and traffickers will not be tolerated,” Deutsch added.

It took several years to catch and prosecute Ngondjo, according to WCS, which worked closely with the government and African Parks Network. A partnership between WCS and the Aspinall Foundation, PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna Republic of Congo), proved instrumental to the outcome.

Ngondjo had run amok in the Cuvette-Ouest Department for a decade and had reportedly cultivated connections on high to avoid arrest and  prosecution, but eventually his luck ran out.

Two other poachers were tried with Ngondjo: one received a five year sentence, the other two years.

Elephant poaching has hit record levels in recent years with elephant populations in Central Africa especially hard hit. Forest elephants, which are largely found in the Congo Basin, have been decimated: a recent study found that the population had been cut down by 60 percent in the last decade due to poaching. Experts estimate that 35,000 elephants were killed in 2012 for their tusks.